Promoting an album kills creativity, says Ed Sheeran, preferring to watch a World Cup game rather than talk about "X," the anticipated follow-up to his 2011 debut, "+."
The 23-year-old singer-songwriter is drained and distracted from talking up the new album, out Monday, across the country.
"It has to be done," he shrugs, one ear on the game.
The English performer prefers the other parts of his job, writing songs and playing live. His tour will bring him to Rosemont's Allstate Arena Sept. 16.
He created more than 100 songs to get the 12 tracks on "X," which he pronounces "multiply." He also worked with a handful of hit-making producers -- Pharrell, Benny Blanco, Jeff Bhasker and Rick Rubin -- to craft a broader, more radio-friendly sound.
"It's weird, because they're more polished producers, but it's a more raw sound," Sheeran said, "so I think they brought an element of rawness to it."
It's also funkier than his folksy debut, which has sold more than 800,000 units and earned him a pair of Grammy nominations. A clear example is the Pharrell-produced Top 15 single, "Sing," which has earned comparisons to Justin Timberlake for its dance beat and falsetto vocals. Sheeran appreciates the association.
"He's a very talented person and I've listened to 'Justified' a lot," Sheeran said in an interview last week during the U.S.-Ghana game. "I definitely took influence from that."
Suddenly, a cheer erupts from his colleagues who are still watching the game.
"Oh, you won," Sheeran tells an American reporter. "Congratulations."
Though Sheeran presents a sweet, almost cherubic image, with his mussed red hair and low-key fashion sense, a hardness shows through, and not in the form of his sleeves of tattoos.
Success is everything he hoped it would be, and he misses nothing from his pre-fame life. "It wasn't that fun," he said.
He's picky about his process and partners. He wouldn't feature just anyone on his songs, though he has written for One Direction and his BFF, Taylor Swift.
"The people that (I'd) want to collaborate with aren't the type to collaborate," he said. "For instance, if I just decided tomorrow that I wanted to do a song with Jay Z, it's not going to happen just like that. I think he has to have the idea. ... It's like that with me."
Note to potential collaborators: Wait until the World Cup ends.